Why we did this in the first place…


Here’s an excerpt from a post on our old blog from back in 2012.  Its good to see that even though we have come a long way since then, our core mission of improving surgical training remains a key part of our lives.

Touch Surgery was built to address a real need, a huge void in surgical training. It may sound unbelievable but that void lies with teaching trainee surgeons how to operate.

Take me for example. I am still in the middle of my surgical training program. I have taken out approximately 50 or so appendixes from my patients. How did I learn how to do this? To be frank- I read a book, watched someone else do it, and then dived in and practiced on a real life human being.

This is the way that most of us learn to operate. It’s true, that our first attempts at the operation are usually performed under the watchful eye of a more experienced surgeon, but the fact of the matter remains that trainee surgeons get to operate on patients without any sort of formalised education or assessment of their knowledge.

Let’s compare this to another profession – the aviation industry. Both pilots and surgeons have complex jobs involving a great deal of knowledge, decision making and technical hands on skill. Both surgeons and pilots have to perform their jobs knowing that mistakes can prove fatal.

Trainee pilots have very large text books to read and memorise, and then go on to spend countless hours on a flight simulator to continue training. This allows them to reinforce their knowledge, practice making decisions, and make mistakes in a safe environment. Assessing their performance on the simulator will demonstrate when they are ready to take their place in the cockpit and be responsible for the lives of their passengers.

In surgical training, we also read huge textbooks. However, our knowledge of an operation is never tested. We don’t practice outside of the operating room. Instead we get thrown into the situation where we are both learning and practicing at the same time on a real patient. That means that when you or your relative come into hospital requiring an operation, there is no guarantee that your surgeon is ready or experienced enough to perform your operation. When you think about it it’s scary. More than that it’s incredibly unsafe, and it’s astounding that in today’s world this can still occur.

Some companies have tried to remedy this by building surgical simulators in an attempt to replicate the purpose of flight simulators. However there are several problems with this.

Firstly these simulators are very expensive. So expensive in fact that the majority of training institutions cannot afford to buy them. The lucky few that can tend to use them for research purposes, keeping them locked away in academic departments well away from the eager hands of trainees. This means that even though simulators may be amazing machines, and high fidelity validated tools, they are useless for training as we can’t access them!

Secondly these simulators focus on technical skills. It has been established that a safe operation is made up of 75% decision making knowledge and 25% technical ability. A simulator in the hands of a trainee alone is of little benefit unless you happen to have an experienced surgeon next to you – teaching you the decision making process and steps of the operation.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is knowledge transfer from the expert surgeon to the trainee.  Studies have shown that an operation becomes almost automated to an expert surgeon – so much so that if you ask them to write down the steps of an operation, in reality they neglect to include about three quarters of them.  So we are left in a situation where the expert forgets to teach the majority of the steps and decision points, and the trainee doesn’t know enough about the operation to realise what he isn’t being taught.

Touch Surgery was specifically designed to address these issues.  Firstly, it focuses upon teaching the safe steps of an operation and key decision points.  This is the first tool to focus upon this fundamental aspect of teaching surgery.  Secondly, being software that is designed for hardware that sits in most peoples pockets already (ie: smart devices like an iPhone) Touch Surgery is immediately accessible to surgical trainees everywhere.  We’ve also made it extremely affordable – we know how expensive things can be for a training surgeon.

The content for Touch Surgery is also developed using Cognitive Task Analysis – a validated tool for teaching complex procedures.

We’ve look around, and haven’t found anything else that can do what Touch Surgery does.  We’ve shown this to students, trainees, and Professors of Surgery, and received superlative feedback.  We’re really very excited to be involved in creating this product, and hope that it can truly make a difference to your training.”